Happy 5th Anniversary to Lecrae’s sixth studio album Gravity, originally released September 4, 2012.
Casual music listeners often criticize Christian Hip-Hop for producing sterile and soulless music that fails to entertain, provoke, and inspire the masses. Upon thoughtful examination, however, Lecrae’s 2012 opus Gravity has proven to be the exception to this rule. The 15-track affair finds the Reach Records mogul redefining the parameters of Christian music as his strong religious beliefs and dazzling MCsmanship battle for supremacy, all at once.
Hot on the heels of the critically-acclaimed 2012 Church Clothes mixtape with mainstream producer Don Cannon, Lecrae grappled with a firestorm of controversy from his core demographic. A considerable number of Lecrae’s supporters criticized his collaborations with “secular artists and producers” whose work didn’t take Christian values into account. “I was being criticized in public for the first time in my career, and I didn’t know how to manage it,” Lecrae wrote in his 2014 biography, Unashamed. “I was still unashamed in my faith—that hadn’t changed—but now I was being bold with my art. Why were people attacking me?” Undeterred by the scathing criticism, Lecrae invested all his creative energy into Gravity, a groundbreaking project that Rapzilla dubbed as “the most important album in the history of Christian Hip-Hop.”
Sonically, Gravity manages to deliver a more street-conscious sound while retaining the fiery gospel force that had come to distinguish him since Real Talk (2004). Album opener “The Drop (Intro)” packs a tight musical punch with trunk-rattling bass, a haunting choir, and mind-boggling guitar algebra that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dr. Dre and Eminem recording. “Walk with Me” is a soulful, drum-driven composition with a crate-digging Solomon Burke sample that Just Blaze would give mad props to. Even “Violence” sounds like something Lil’ Wayne might record on Tha Carter III if he teamed up with dancehall veteran Cutty Ranks.
The speaker-shuddering “Lord Have Mercy,” brilliantly produced by Heat Academy, features longtime 116 Clique member Tedashii and sly references to Biggie’s “One More Chance (Remix)” and Makaveli’s “Hail Mary.” Late-album highlight “I Know” hits like a sledgehammer as Lecrae hurls bodacious rhymes over a heavily rhythmic beat that’ll blow your hair back.
Accompanying the project’s agile feast of sounds is Lecrae’s proficiency with the pen, which amplifies the social and emotional candor by several degrees. The evocative title track resonates with those who feel disenfranchised (“My job is oppressive, I strive for my blessings / The pastor so corrupt it’s hard to ride with his message / Riches destroy the owners, the government think they own us / My onus is to keep the police from ridin’ all up on us”).
“Free from It All” offers an incisive critique of fame’s prison-like chamber (“You live for their acceptance, you die from their rejection”). The trifecta of “Fallin’ Down,” “Fakin’,” and “Power Trip” denounce greed and materialism featuring lyrical heavyweights Trip Lee, Swoope, Thi’sl, Pro, Sho Baraka, and Andy Mineo, respectively.
“Mayday,” a concert favorite of Lecrae’s, finds him joining forces with mainstream rapper Big K.R.I.T. and R&B vocalist Ashthon Jones of American Idol fame exposing hypocrisy, both inside and outside of the church. “Former fans wrote hateful things about me on blogs,” Lecrae wrote in Unashamed. “They labeled me a ‘sellout’ and a ‘fake.’ Some attacked me personally, even questioning whether I was really a Christian.” Regardless of stylistic preferences, one must at least acknowledge the sheer boldness of showcasing the fears, struggles, and doubts of both parties. The remainder of the album—“Confe$$ions,” “Buttons,” “Tell the World,” and “Lucky Ones”—effectively communicate the gospel in a musical language that’s understood and appreciated by those in mainstream hip hop.
Five years removed from its original release, Gravity is the portrait of an artist with supreme confidence and full command of his divine skill-set. Commercially, it debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 charts and earned Best Gospel Album and Best Rap/Hip Hop Album honors at the 2013 Grammy Awards and Dove Awards, respectively. “I had learned to be unashamed in the midst of a fallen world,” Lecrae mentioned in Unashamed. “Now I needed to learn to be unashamed in the midst of a religious world.” It may not have been as culturally overpowering as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly or Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, but Lecrae’s Gravity does stand alongside them as one of hip hop’s most impressive artistic achievements.